Tips To Talk To Teens from Teens by Danielle Faczan
As kids grow older, it becomes harder and harder for parents to talk to them about their lives, especially once they reach teen-hood. Whether it be something as simple as how their school day was, or as difficult as asking about bullying and cyberbullying, teenagers won’t open up easily. Although professionals may give advice to parents about how to talk to their kids, is it really the best choice? Or does the best advice come from teens themselves? Hey U.G.L.Y. – Unique Gifted Lovable You, the nonprofit that empowers youth to be part of the solution to bullying wanted youth to give parents insights into bridging the communication gap.
“The best advice comes from kids,” commented high school junior Deanna Menke. “Adults giving advice to other adults is like the blind leading the blind. They know about as much as other parents do.”
For example, high school senior Lucas Neuhold explained that a teen’s one word reply to questions like, “How is your day,” just means they are tired. “When we answer ’Fine’ or ’Okay’, it just means we are too tired to talk about anything at the time,” Neuhold explained. “Parents don’t understand how exhausting school is for teens.”
School itself may not necessarily be the cause of teen exhaustion, but it certainly adds to it. According to mayoclinic.com, “everyone has an internal clock that influences body temperature, sleep cycles, appetite and hormonal changes. The biological and psychological processes that follow the cycle of this 24-hour internal clock are called circadian rhythms. Before adolescence, these circadian rhythms direct most children to naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m. But puberty changes a teen’s internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy often until 11 p.m. or later.”
If teens aren’t falling asleep until eleven or later, then have to wake up around five or six the next morning, how are they supposed to attain the nine hours of sleep needed each night? It’s no wonder teens are exhausted after school, work, homework, and other activities, and give little information about their day to parents.
“I think, maybe parents don’t always have the full perspective about what’s going on,” said Kurt May, a seventh grader. “Maybe the kids are leaving something out and [the parents] don’t have the puzzle pieces to put it back together.”
There are times where parents have to play “detective” in order to understand what their child is trying to say. They may have to ask several different questions or ask only one question and rephrase it multiple times. Kids have stories to tell on a daily basis; this is where playing “detective” comes in. To understand the entirety of the story, a parent has to put forth the time and effort to uncover the “puzzle pieces”, as May would say.
“Don’t demand [conversations], because that’ll just make the kids shut down more,” notes recent high school graduate Mercedes McGee. “Wait for them to come to you. When they do say something, you have to make sure they feel safe and can trust you. You don’t want them to regret talking to you.”
Unfortunately, not all parents take the patient approach when talking to their children. A new type of parenting, called helicopter parenting, is becoming very popular. Helicopter parenting is when parents are ceaselessly interacting, and most often interfering, with their children’s lives. They hover over them like a helicopter, from which the name stems. These parents make their children’s decisions and push for conversations about their lives. In some ways, this can be a positive thing, because the parent and child can have a closer relationship. However, there can also be resentment if the parent constantly interferes with their children’s lives and doesn’t let them make their own decisions.
“The best way to give advice is to not give it first,” Menke explained. “Just listen and let [kids] vent, because sometimes that’s all they need. Parents should be therapists - let [your children] arrive at their own answers. If you want them to do something, don’t guilt them into it, just encourage it.”
According to Hey U.G.L.Y. co-founder and president, Betty Hoeffner, “the number one complaint students have about their parents is that they don’t listen.” Hoeffner explained that it is a natural tendency for parents to want to jump in and solve a problem or interrupt their child to make a point. “Teens tell us they want their parents to listen and not comment until they are done talking. We advise parents to ask their kids if they’d like their input. Saying something like, ’Would you be interested in my perspective on that … or, I have some opinions about that, would you be interested in hearing them? – lets your child know you are respecting them. You are empowering your child to ask for your input instead of feeling like you are ’hitting them over the head’ with it.”
“Another great way to engage your child is through the lyrics of music,” Hoeffner continued. “For example, ask your tween or teen to recommend some songs that have lyrics which encourage people to have good self-esteem or songs that help kids not be bullied. Let them know you want to share the lyrics with some other parents at work or in your group. Once your child gives you the lyrics it opens an avenue of conversation that creates common ground.”
Talking to parents about being bullied can be the most difficult topic for kids. If a child is being picked on at school, or cyberbullied through a social networking site, they may be embarrassed or ashamed by it. If it seems like something is odd, starting a serious conversation with the child could make them uncomfortable and reluctant to discuss what’s wrong. High school senior Alex Nekvasil had some suggestions on how to make kids talk.
“Do something calming to begin with - like eating dinner or watching TV - and not ’we need to talk’,” said Nekvasil. “You want to start with casual, then work towards serious. [If they do come to you], don’t let your day get into the conversation. If you have a bad day, block it out. Don’t take it out on your kid because they brought up something serious.”
Recent high school graduate Shawn Fleming thought about such situations from a personal perspective. “I wouldn’t want my parents to be forward. I don’t want them to be like ’are you getting bullied, are people making fun of you at school?’ I feel maybe if they asked how my day was, or approached the situation in a less forward way I would respond better.”
“My advice would be to keep up a good repertoire with your kids so that when something does happen, the kids will feel okay talking to you,” advised high school senior Mariah Theis. “Also, keep them informed about bullying and what to do if someone does bully them or someone else.”
Unfortunately, there are different methods used by bullies today than there were during the parents’ childhoods. It’s commonly seen in older movies that bullies shoved kids in to lockers, dropped them in trash cans, and stole their lunch money. Today some bullying isn’t even seen, but rather read over the internet. Cyberbullying, defined as the use of e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms, pagers, cell phones, or other forms of technology to deliberately harass, threaten, or intimidate someone by Whatis.com, allows bullies to hide behind an electronic curtain. Thus, if parents aren’t sure what advice to give to their kids about bullying, Theis has some ideas.
“[The kids] should tell someone first off and try to ignore the bully. Also, sometimes trying to befriend the bully could be a good method. If bullying continues or worsens, they should be sure to tell an adult.”
“Sometimes my friends have trouble talking to their parents, so I tell them ’I’m here, you can talk to me; I can keep secrets’,” said May. “But if it’s too bad, I’ll go tell somebody [with authority]. I won’t spread it to everybody.”
While some adults have applicable tips for parents, sometimes the best idea is to ask other teens. Kids know other kids the best - after all, they’re all dealing with similar situations each day.
“[All in all], I would tell the parents to just be accepting and to listen,” advised Fleming. “If the kids are coming to you, it means they need and trust you. Don’t ruin it by becoming the enemy.”
About the Author: Danielle Faczan is a senior at New Prairie High School who writes for the Cougar Chronicle as the Editor-in-Chief. She plans on pursuing a career in Journalism after high school.
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